Relay ready: Final preparations before marathon day

Laura Dorgan

First-time relay teams need to educate themselves on the mental challenges that lie ahead, says personal trainer Laura Dorgan.

As the relay race for the Cork City Marathon fast approaches, teams will have invested in building up their pace, technique and learning to work together in training for the physical challenge ahead.

Relay teams running for the first time are often eager and motivated but can be ill-prepared for the mental challenges associated with endurance-sapping races.

Pre-race mental preparation as a group the days beforehand can help relay teams cope with various race situations, in particular, the dreaded ‘wall’.

‘The wall’ is a term used by runners to describe a point in the race where their body cannot cope with the pressure it’s under.

Glucose is the body’s principal energy source which is broken down from carbohydrates. It can be used immediately as fuel or can be sent to the liver and muscles to be stored as glycogen.

During exercise, muscle glycogen is converted back into glucose, which muscle fibres use as fuel, however, when glycogen stores are depleted the body is required to utilise fat for energy supply.

This usage of fat for energy is a slower energy supply process than glycogen conversion and the resulting drop in available glycogen can frequently result in “hypoglycaemia” or, ‘the wall’.

Hitting the wall can be a difficult and a very unpleasant experience resulting in a range of issues including motor control disturbance (deterioration in physical co-ordination), dehydration, nausea, muscle spasms, dizziness and feelings of physical weakness.

Interestingly, male runners can be more than five times as likely to experience burnout as women — this is attributed to women being more disciplined in their approach to pacing.

There are strategies runners can adopt if they hit the wall. Cramping might be addressed with supplementation like energy gels as well as a reduction in physical output to allow the body to briefly recharge.

Mental stress might be addressed by a form of positive self-talk or mental reframing.

Although it’s difficult to know in advance how you will react, mentally preparing yourself will go a long way in helping you overcome serious challenges.

Pre-race strategy

Know the race course layout (elevation changes, aid stations, toilets), try and walk it weeks in advance.

Ensure that glycogen stores in the muscles are replete by eat sufficiently leading up to the race.

Plan for the timing and type of nutrient intake, practise consuming these foods in your training runs so you know they will suit you on race day.

Plan to remain hydrated to facilitate optimum muscle and nervous system function.

Plan and stick to your running pace. Early take-off completed at faster than planned race pace and fuelled by race day enthusiasm can lead to significant and sharp drops in energy levels at the end.

Listen to how your body is responding/performing. Focus on matters important to the marathon, keeping your pace, anticipation of hills while routinely checking-in to ensure thirst has not crept up, cramping is not beginning and so on.

Use imagery to assist in coping with emotional stress or practice visualisation in the days leading up to the event.

Find focus points during the race or tail certain individuals.

Pre-race preparation

Having the correct attire is vital. It’s not the time to start changing your runners, keep to what you know and what works for you.

This way, on the day everything has been tried and tested and you’re fully equipped to face the race.

Leave a bag in the car, locker or with a supporter of your team with items you’ll need before and after the race. Consider packing the following:

  • Change of clothing if necessary for after the race
  • Deodorant
  • Baby wipes (to clean yourself off after you run)
  • Sunscreen
  • A second pair of shoes
  • Socks
  • Towel
  • Phone charger for the car
  • Foam roller or stick

During the race you may need the following:

  • GPS Watch/heart rate monitor / MP3 player
  • Sunglasses
  • Hair ties and bobby pins
  • Water / hydration belt
  • Snacks/fuel / energy gels
  • Hat (with visor)

All of the above are not essential but worth considering before you hit the road on Sunday.

Pic: Darragh Kane
Pic: Darragh Kane

Warm up

Walk gently for three to five minutes, ease your body out of sitting mode and into workout mode.

The motion of walking takes the muscles, tendons and joints through a range of motion that’s similar to what it will go through in running.

This will enhance the blood flow to all the muscles you’ll need for running, sending your brain the message that it’s time to go.

Dynamic stretching is the best way to stretch major muscle groups during your warm up.

Before going straight into holding a static stretch on the spot, dynamic stretching increases performance by applying the movements that will be used throughout your race, preventing injury.

Fuel your body

On race day, make sure you stick to what you’re used to, whether its porridge, eggs or a banana suits your body type before you start training, keep it that way.

Before your race, you’ll want to have something that will give you a boost of energy without leaving you with an upset stomach on the road.

Familiar foods that are easy on your system, low in fat and fibre, and high in carbs will boost your energy without upsetting your stomach.


Staying hydrated before the race and on the day itself is critical for your performance.

You don’t want to have to take in excess fluids on the day of the race, so it is important to maintain your hydration levels beforehand.

You will need to consume the right amount of fluids while avoiding alcohol and being sure not to over-hydrate yourself.

Be proud of yourself

Enjoy all the hard work you’ve put in by taking in the crowds support who came out to cheer you on, take it all in, that’s where you’ll feel so proud of yourself for taking part.

Running past a cheering group of friends and family can be a great morale boost.

The very best of luck to all those taking part in the Irish Examiner Cork City Marathon.

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